And they warn many lung cancer cases were missed because the symptoms, including coughing, were mistakn for Covid.
Work carried out by experts at the UK Lung Cancer coalition estimate there was a 75 per cent drop in urgent GP lung cancer referrals to specialists during the height of the lockdown.
They calculate this could equate to as many as 2,000 untimely lung cancer deaths over the course of the year.
Experts have also raised concerns that lung cancer patients getting misdiagnosed with coronavirus as both conditions can lead to persistent cough.
They also fear lung cancer deaths may have been mislabelled as Covid-19.
The fears have led to the development of a new protocol for distinguishing between the two conditions – “Differentiation of the C’s in lung cancer: Cancer vs Covid” to try to prevent further unnecessary deaths.
Professor Mick Peake, founder of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition who helped compile the data said: “Many patients were not referred during lockdown some of the reasons for this are unknown, but some of the patients were misdiagnosed by doctors who put their symptoms down to coronavirus.
“In other cases people were afraid to go to their GPs with suspected symptoms patients with stages of advanced lung cancer that I haven’t seen since the 1980;’s with patients presenting to emergency care with lumps in their neck, obstruction of their airways and cancers invading their chest wall, such things had become very rare in recent years.
“But during the first wave of pandemic many patients could not even able to get a chest X-ray so we weren’t picking up cases on top of the fact lung cancer screening was also stopped.”
He added: “The government has been giving out very mixed messages – telling people not to bother the NHS unless they are extremely ill because it is so busy and on top of this the general public has been frightened to go to the surgery for fear of picking up covid. But now many cancer patients have been lost in the system.”
He said he feared deaths caused by collatoral damage due to lockdown restrictions could eventually be greater than those caused by Covid.
He said: “We do not have the research to show this this yet, but looking at the data so far on cancer and heart disease as well and talking to experts in various fields it is very likely that the lockdown and measures to contain the virus will cause more deaths than direct covid deaths.”
Professor Karol Sikora, a former advisor to the World Health Organisation on cancer said: “Lung cancer is a serious problem in the era of coronavirus. The Government must stop putting fear into people, especially older people who are mostly likely to be afraid and most likely to be affected by lung cancer.”
Dr Robert Rintoul, the incoming chair of the clinical advisory group for the (pls keep mention) UK Lung Cancer Coalition – a panel of top UK experts in the disease, “People are still frightened to see their GP. But patients and doctors need to be alert to the fact that not everything with a cough is covid.”